Skies Are Friendly At Gerald R Ford

GRAND RAPIDS — Despite terrorist concerns and tighter security measures, more passengers traveled through Gerald R. Ford International Airport for the first nine months of this year than did last year.

And about four of every 10 passengers were business travelers.

According to officials at GFIA, passenger activity was up 1.4 percent through September of this year compared to the same period last year — meaning 1.43 million passengers arrived at and left from the airport during the first three-quarters of the calendar year.

“All things considered, we certainly consider that a positive indicator of a return of passengers — both business and leisure,” said Bruce Schedlbauer, GFIA marketing and communications manager.

“That 1.4 percent compares quite well to other airports and, as a matter of fact, we’ve seen that positive comparison be kind of a trend ever since September 11th of last year,” he added.

“We weren’t hit quite as hard and rebounded a little more quickly than some of our surrounding airports.”

Schedlbauer said reasons for the gain in passenger activity, during a year when the air-travel industry underwent its biggest makeover in decades, were both global and local.

On the global level, he felt traveler confidence has been restored with the security changes made at most airports, and that the airlines have correctly priced airfares to most destinations.

“Fares, in adjusted dollars, are among the lowest ever experienced in the post-deregulation period in the industry. Low fares are certainly a benefit for the traveler, but are not necessarily helping the airlines,” he said.

At the local level, Schedlbauer said fares at GFIA compare very well with those at other airports. Air-service enhancements at the airport, meaning more departures, have also been a factor in the higher traffic pattern over the past year.

Among those are two weekday non-stop flights to Washington, D.C., by Skyway Airlines; a seventh daily trip to Midway Airport by ATA Connection; a fourth Delta Connection daily jet to Atlanta; and another jet service to New York from Continental Express, giving the airport a pair of daily flights to nearby Newark.

All four are favorite business destinations.

“New York is a significant market for us, so that is a great service to have added here. So now to have nonstop service into the New York area was a great addition to the offerings here,” said Schedlbauer.

New York is significant because it was the second most popular destination for GFIA flyers a year ago. Only Orlando sold more tickets.

Minneapolis, Chicago and Dallas rounded out the top five destinations, in that order, for 2001.

“Three or four of those traditionally — meaning for years — have been among the top handful of markets out of here. Now that doesn’t include connecting traffic, that’s just people going back and forth between Grand Rapids and those particular cities.”

And there haven’t been any major changes in the destinations that local flyers have flown to and from over the past year.

As for business travel, Schedlbauer said that business people make up 35 percent to 40 percent of the commercial air traffic at the airport — a pretty good chunk of the GFIA flying market but not as large a share as found in some other cities.

“If you look at other airports around the country you will see different mixes. You’ll see airports that are 60-40 or even 70-30 skewed toward business travel. But we find our mix here would be about 35 to 40 percent business travel,” he said.

Although many airlines are currently struggling financially overall, the providers at GFIA seem to be doing good business.

“Grand Rapids has traditionally been a very solid, stable, profitable market for the airlines that operate here,” Schedlbauer said.

“They run good load factors. Their yields are respectable, yields meaning what they make per passenger. Locally, they’ve done well and are doing well here.

“(But) ridership equals retention. In other words, if you wish to retain air service, you need to ride or utilize that service. That, to a very great degree, will determine the level of air service that this community has out of Gerald Ford Airport.”

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